Supermarkets, engage the diabetes challenge

December 08, 2009

Food stores looking to cultivate a growth market should train their efforts on people with diabetes and their families.

Food stores looking to cultivate a growth market should train their efforts on people with diabetes and their families. They’re already shopping in their stores – though usually not identified as such unless they’re also customers of the pharmacy – and they generally find little to help them make the best food choices at the shelf.

Instead, they find aisles of temptations that could put them or their loved ones over the brink into a diabetes condition, or worsen one that already exists, if eaten too often, or sometimes at all. Because the disease does its damage silently, millions of Americans don’t recognize their risk until its too late.

Therefore, supermarkets have a tremendous opportunity to differentiate themselves as a helpful resource for people seeking to eat appropriately – either to prevent the onset of diabetes, or an escalation of the ailment. Whether shoppers are concerned for themselves or a loved one, the anxiety is high – and the right guidance in a store or on a retailer’s website could go a long way toward gaining trust and growing share of a household’s trips.

Consider involving nutritionists and store-based pharmacists in educational programs at the store, where tours point out locations of good food and beverage choices, and topics from label reading to diabetes management are covered. A signage program could quickly identify, say, the unsweetened applesauce at the shelf vs. the one with sugar added, the lower glycemic-index bread, or the orange juice that would be quickly absorbed and help a diabetes sufferer stem a potentially catastrophic low blood-sugar reaction.  A retailer’s website could showcase diabetes-ready recipes, as well as links to groups like the American Diabetes Association ( or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (  

We won’t attempt to recommend specific foods or beverages in this story, but items high in sugar or carbohydrates could raise glucose levels beyond normal levels, and often packaged items that claim they are low in one could be high in the other.  Suffice to say that supermarket shelves are filled with traps for people with diabetes.

That’s unacceptable in our view at – especially in light of the latest projection by the University of Chicago (in the Diabetes Care journal) that the number of diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes patients will nearly double to 44 million by 2034, and the cost to treat them will nearly triple to $336 billion (2007 dollars).

This scenario holds too much pain for patients, too much health care cost for the nation, and too much missed opportunity for supermarkets that could and should play a more responsible role in stemming this disease.